VR AR at Tokyo Olympics

by Guy Frum

VR, AR Making New Connections at Tokyo Olympics

The Summer Olympics going on in Tokyo are like none before them, greatly reduced numbers of spectators, not taking place in the year attached to their name (Tokyo 2020), and for the first time in history, postponed and rescheduled as opposed to being cancelled.With athletes limited from the type of in-person camaraderie that has long defined the spirit of the Olympic village and fans few and far between, technological innovations from companies in host country Japan are utilizing virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to make the Games more personal.

Swimming Upgrade

For the lucky few fans who get a chance to watch the swimming competitions taking place at the newly-constructed Tokyo Aquatics Centre, AR is giving them new layers of insight into every event and swimmer in the competition. NTT Docomo, the leading mobile phone operator in Japan, has placed wearable AR devices in specific seats. Fans watching the races through the headset will be able to see a virtual leaderboard and lane information with swimmer names and their nation’s flag, approximating the view a fan at home would be seeing on the international broadcast. The real-time experience is made possible by NTT Docomo’s 5G capabilities and the low latency the network is able to achieve in the arena. Swimming was chosen as the trial sport for this new AR technology because it can be such a “blink and you missed it” experience, especially for fans unused to watching this sport of competition. 

Looking up at the scoreboard for even a couple of seconds to check out swimmers’ splits, names, countries of origin, and existing records can cause a fan to miss out on exciting action in the pool. NTT Docomo lead experience designer Norikyuki Furuno thinks this experience is just the tip of the iceberg or the combination of AR and the Olympics. “In the future, we could send competition data directly to another pool set up in another language - replicating the swimmers in the pool and all the data that comes with it via those glasses and casting it over the empty pool,” Tanaka said in an interview. “I think spectators will be able to watch and participate in sports happening very far away without being bound by their physical location.”

Olympic Virtual Series

About a month before the actual Games started, the International Olympic Committee put on The Virtual Olympic Series where competitors played in VR versions of cycling, baseball, sailing, rowing, and motorsport. Actual Olympians took part in the cycling and rowing VR competitions, while the field was more open in other competitions, including the motorsport one, which took place inside popular video game Gran Turismo. No word on if Esports will ever find a home in the Olympics, so for now keep those trigger fingers healthy and limber when you’re playing League of Legends or Fortnite.

Final Thoughts

Under pressure to cancel the Summer Olympics altogether under worries of another COVID-19 outbreak and how much money Japan is spending on something that is generating very little money for its economy, the country’s technological wizards are finding ways to give fans and athletes next-level opportunities to get inside the game. That’s never a bad thing.